Open Air

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Story by Michael Stein

maui artists invitational

When twenty-five artists — ten from the Hawaiian Islands, fifteen from the mainland — gather in February for the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational, a little painterly ʻohana (family) blooms on Maui.

It’s not just the artists; that family includes collectors, students, members of the public who take workshops or simply watch the artists as they paint en plein air (in the open air), and Mauians who host the out-of-town artists in their homes. Technically the Invitational is a competition, but it’s a great demonstration of teamwork, aloha spirit, and devotion to Maui itself.

Ronaldo Macedo, the artist who cofounded the Invitational nine years ago, says that what makes it so special, and gains it an ever-increasing following, is that only Hawai‘i has this kind of climate in winter, and only Maui has . . . Maui.

The Valley Isle’s evanescent colors — the green of ʻIao Valley, black lava and red soil, sand fading into surf — ensure that “each painting of a place can be so different; the light is different, the time is different, the feeling is different, and so every painting is special.”

However transient the light and the emotion, these paintings freeze in time moments of Maui history.

A highlight of each year’s Invitational is a lecture by Jean Stern, executive director of California’s Irvine Museum. In “Masterpieces of Plein Air Painting,” he will describe how the Maui artists join a centuries-long tradition. As they race to distill the essence of an outdoor scene, they follow in the path of the nineteenth-century French Impressionists, American painters from the Hudson River School, and William Merritt Chase — who established what became Parsons The New School for Design.

The week’s events include a Kickoff Paint-out at Lahaina’s Jodo Mission, the Pioneer Inn/Lahaina Harbor Quick Draw, and a culminating reception at the Village Galleries, which helped launch the careers of many a local artist and Maui’s reputation as an art scene. Lynn Shue, owner, says the Invitational justifies emptying her entire gallery for three days; this year the exhibit will include a special collectors’ viewing hour.

Among the prizes to be awarded at the reception, none will be more moving than the presentation of a Darrell Hill Award to a painting that best exemplifies the Big Island artist’s spirit and work. A regular participant in Maui Plein Air Painting Invitationals, Hill passed away in February 2013. The tribute to him is a reminder that the Invitational is about a community of artists exalting with their work a location like no other.

The Maui Plein Air Invitational runs February 15 through 23, with the gala reception at the Village Galleries on February 21 from 6 to 9 p.m. For the complete schedule and description, visit www.MauiPleinAirPainting.org.

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